BEHIND CONVENT WALLS (1978)

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Behind Convent Walls

BEHIND CONVENT WALLS (1978)
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Available on Arrow Video Limited Edition Blu-Ray

A convent full of sexually-repressed nuns find themselves increasingly frustrated by the Mother Superior’s strict way of living that they eventually take matters into their own hands.

BEHIND CONVENT WALLS gives us a peek at what the sisters supposedly get up to when not worshipping God in Walerian Borowczyk’s nunsploitation erotica.

When you think of nuns in movies, you traditionally think of virtuous women, pure of nature and intention, but this couldn’t be further from the truth in BEHIND CONVENT WALLS. Not long after meeting some of the nuns, we see them having fun in the church whilst cleaning and doing chores, with the more musical sisters taking to the organ and violin to play an upbeat number that has a group of them dancing. Unfortunately, any sort of deviance from worshipping the holy trinity is seen as sacrilege and Mother Superior, Abbess Flavia, quickly puts a stop to their antics. Behind closed doors though, the nuns are up to all sorts of things, from naked yoga to romping with the upper classes. As the Abbess begins to unearth debauchery amongst her nuns, she decides to come down ever stricter against them. She sniffs out the culprits polluting her convent by raiding their cells during the day whilst they’re empty, and using her cane, within which is sheathed a sword, to stab and poke at their mattresses in order to find contraband. She doesn’t have to look far, as the nuns hide forbidden letters describing carnal desires and drawings of men, not to mention some of the nuns possess mirrors which are forbidden in the convent, as they are presumably seen to be an act of vanity.

With temptation around every corner, from the local handyman Silva, who also brings the sisters fresh meat to their kitchen, to scholar Rodrigo Landriani, the priest’s nephew, who seems more interested in getting in the knickers of one of the nuns. Throughout it all, we get to meet a variety of the nuns and get acquainted with their favourite ways to pass the time, but it is Sister Clara, whose devotion to God is unyielding, who refuses to be sucked into the sinful way of her sisters. She’s tested throughout the movie, and you see moments when she begins to wobble, but can she truly resist temptation when it feels like the walls are closing in?

The combination of lighting and soft-focus creating a dreamlike aesthetic, BEHIND CONVENT WALLS is a piece of erotic cinema that is very much focused on the visual rather than the narrative. It lacks a script worth mentioning with very little in the way of dialogue, but is still coherent in its core storyline of a group of repressed young nuns who are yearning for their freedom, both as humans and as sexual beings. Depriving them of that causes many problems, as we end up discovering, but even in the act of punishing the women, they still resort to committing these so-called ‘sinful’ acts. Interestingly, it is through these acts that we can identify each of the nuns, as unfortunately most of the characters aren’t that developed and can sometimes look identical to the next when roaming the convent, wearing the habit.

Masturbation is particularly focused upon in the movie, with the nuns having very little options in the way of satisfying their urges with living beings, though it doesn’t stop a few of them from having sex with the odd man that frequents the convent or even enjoying some sapphic pleasure with fellow sisters. As expected with a title such as this, there’s an abundance of full frontal female nudity, with one scene involving a homemade sex toy that is especially explicit that leaves nothing to the imagination (this was said to be done using a double for the actress playing the role). Although there’s a couple of men involved in the movie, there’s no full frontal nudity for those. We see some side-action thrusting, but in shots where you see a naked nun laying beside her suitor, the filmmaker seems to purposely have angled the camera and directed the performers to position their bodies in a way to shield his penis from view. This feels very one-sided considering how explicit the female nudity gets, which begs the question why a penis shot may have been seen to be too much? Would it have tipped the rating over the edge, perhaps?

In the essence of erotic cinema, Walerian Borowczyk’s BEHIND CONVENT WALLS is no match for the output of Tinto Brass. Its lack of a proper scripted plot means most of the story is driven by the visual. Put it this way, if it didn’t include the nudity, there wouldn’t be much worth watching. The message the film is trying to convey may be clear and true, but as a movie it leaves a lot to be desired, something which the sisters at the convent know only too well about.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Behind Convent Walls

The Arrow Video release features a 2k restoration that is stunning to look at but the original English lossless mono audio can be sometimes difficult to hear the dialogue properly – thankfully there’s optional English subtitles to help decipher what little dialogue there is in the movie.

The Limited Edition Blu-Ray includes a reversible sleeve and illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring new writing by film scholar Kat Ellinger and original press notes. There’s also a small amount of extras on the disc, including a new appreciation entitled Anarchic Nuns and the Artistry of Desire which is very interesting examination by knowledgeable film scholar Virginie Sélavy, who lists BEHIND CONVENT WALLS as her favourite of Borowczyk’s films; Brief Von Paris (1975), a 40+ mins short film which just seems to be a collection of street-shot footage edited together of the public carrying out their daily lives; brand new audio commentary by film critic Justine Smith, and a theatrical trailer.

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About Bat 4425 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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